On July 9, 2021, the Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University in cooperation with the University of South Carolina Rule of Law Collaborative and the USAID New Justice Program conducted a graduation ceremony for 26 participants of the third round of the Rule of Law Certificate Program. Since 2018, this groundbreaking USAID-supported program has equiped participants, including judges, lawyers, prosecutors, government officials, and civil society advocates from throughout Ukraine, with a deeper understanding of the rule of law and how to apply it in their day-to-day work.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the keynote address at the virtual ceremony, congratulating graduates and inspiring them to be courageous in defending and promoting the rule of law in Ukraine, noting that:
Often it takes tremendous courage to stand fast, but without those willing to stand fast to the rule of law no country can expect to keep human liberty in view and the dangers of despotism at bay of the law. Your culture is ancient, but your Constitution is relatively new. In some sense you are your nation’s founding generation. Such moments are fraught with dangers but filled with opportunities too. Your commitment to the rule of law today can become models for future generations of lawyers in a same way as Harlan, Jackson, Adams and Ennis and Burling, and those who signed the Declaration of Independence are models for me and for so many in my own country.”
The rule of law is a cornerstone principle for any democratic society and a prerequisite for sustainable economic and social development. Although the rule of law is enshrined in the Ukrainian Constitution as a guiding principle, legal practitioners and scholars alike generally lack the knowledge, skills and abilities to understand and properly apply it in practice. The participants of the program completed two rigorous weeks of classes and worked together to develop a common understanding of the rule of law, identify the challenges facing Ukraine, and prepare strategies for overcoming those challenges.
There are many threats to the rule of law across the world. Through this program, you had the rare opportunity to deeply explore these threats within the Ukrainian context,” emphasized Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine Alan Purcell welcoming the graduates. “We look forward to seeing you apply what you have learned to deliver on Ukrainians’ high expectations for real reform in the justice sector – reform that ensures an independent judiciary and an effective rule of law.”
The group prepared individual capstone projects to address a rule of law challenge facing the country, outlining solutions covering issues from access to justice to the protection of human rights. This included problems concerning criminal law and procedure, the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, protecting human rights, and ensuring the balance of power between different branches of government.
Four years ago, when this project began, we did not fully realize that it will turn into a significant innovation in the life of the whole legal community of Ukraine,” stated Vice-Rector of the Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University Yurii Barabash.
Program faculty and participants, who represent different aspects of the legal profession, worked together in building a roadmap for the practical application of new knowledge and skills related to the rule of law. Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina and Executive Director of the Rule of Law Collaborative Joel Samuels agreed with his Ukrainian colleague, stating that:
The team-teaching approach that the University of South Carolina developed together with the Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University has given participants even stronger educational experience. It allowed us to have very vigorous and stimulating conversations.”
He added that the faculty used cutting-edge adult learning techniques, which helped the students to develop skills in negotiations and mediation that are the core of the rule of law.
As part of the graduation ceremony, Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit participated in a moderated discussion on the rule of law in practice, addressing important issues related to the rule of law in the digital age, adherence to the rule of law by the private sector, and upholding the rule of law in judicial decision-making, and compliance with ethical requirements by judges and lawyers.
Twenty-six graduates received a joint certificate from Ukrainian and U.S. universities, joining 59 previous graduates. Participants of the three programs were selected from among 725 applicants and have gone on to become champions for the rule of law at their respective institutions and regions.
In concluding the event, USAID New Justice Program Chief of Party David Vaughn shared plans for the further development of the certificate program, which like the rule of law constantly evolves and will continue to be implemented in partnership with the Yaroslav Mudryi National University of Law. At the same time, other Ukrainian stakeholders will be invited to join or support implementation of the program. This will include developing a strategy to ensure the sustainability of this important activity.